Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Strange Plots 14


2019. The problem with Mom is that she always has to be in the right. I don’t mean that there aren’t times when she is right, and I’m certainly willing to admit that she knows more than I do — age hath its privileges — but she must win, always and everywhere. And the thing about always needing to be in the right, even over the smallest details, is that the other person always has to be in the wrong.

Let’s take a random example, like, say, Thanksgiving dinner, and the preparing of it and the eating of it somewhere other than the bosom of one’s family. Now some mothers would be fine with that, realizing that their daughters have to grow up sometime and fly from the family nest. Other mothers, who have spent their daughter’s lifetime making her earn mom’s goodwill, ought to be proud that she’s finally showing some initiative and working independently toward a goal. The goal, in this case, being to get the hell out of the mother’s house.

Being coy is getting tedious, so let’s skip it. The plain fact is that Mom and I had been skirmishing ever since I’d last gone to Titusville, and on Thanksgiving it escalated to open war.

As I’d threatened Mom, I was going to Titusville for Thanksgiving dinner. Vin’s parents were hosting. I might have been apprehensive about going back to their house after the pie-making fiasco if it weren’t that some of his mom’s family were coming over as well. Strength in numbers, you know. And maybe a larger crowd would allow Vin to relax in a way he couldn’t when there was no one else to be a buffer against his mom.

My own mother was definitely entering buffer territory.  She was not even hosting Thanksgiving this year, but she was royally peeved that I was skipping out on the Ramirez family gathering. In vain I protested that I would try to make an appearance late in the evening, that I’d seen my grandparents over the summer, that I remembered any number of my cousins dropping out of the family dinner over the years to spend the holiday with another person, and that sometimes that person had become family in their turn.

Mom, not quite ready to deal with the idea of her daughter growing up enough to bring new people into the family, switched tack as she peeled potatoes.

“I just don’t understand how you could stay away from your Grandpa Moore this year. You know he’s not getting any younger. What if this is the last Thanksgiving you’ll ever have with him? Is this really the memory that you want to go out on, that you chose strangers over your own grandfather?”

My cranberry sauce, the side dish I’d boldly promised to bring, was refusing to gel. Considering that not only had I read the entire recipe beforehand, but had also slogged all the way through a blog post about how the author developed this painstaking gourmet recipe to embody the ambiance of the canned sauce always on her grandparents’ Thanksgiving table, my patience was about as soupy as the mess simmering in my pot.

“That's just silly, Mom,” I said. “Grandpa is the main reason I’m going. He’s the reason I’ve met these people in the first place. You keep forgetting that they’re family too.”

"You’re not going for Grandpa’s sake,” Mom scoffed. “You’re going for yourself. You just want to see that guy.”

“Why not both?” I demanded. “What’s wrong with wanting to see a guy? You yourself are married, so I assume that at some point, you pulled away from the family Thanksgiving — Grandpa’s Thanksgiving, might I add — to go to some guy’s house. And I bet Grandpa didn’t make a big deal about family loyalty.”

“It’s not like I had a grandfather to neglect,” Mom accused. “You at least have a grandpa who loves you and would give anything to see you happy.”

“And I want to see him happy! That’s why I’m going to where his family is from, to learn more about them. Why does that make you so angry?” Cranberry sauce sloshed onto the burner as I slapped my spoon down in the pot.

“I am not angry. Why would you think I was angry?” said my mother, with the grim calm of the truly angry.

“Stop picking at me, then!” I yelled. “What is your problem?  Year after year I’ve heard you whine about going to the Ramirez Thanksgiving dinner. You bitch about the side dishes and the kids underfoot and people who vote Republican. What is it, are you jealous because I’m getting the chance to cut out and you can’t?”

My trigger finger was itchy, ready to shoot out my next comeback, so it took me a moment to realize that there had been a moment of silence. It looked like I’d scored a palpable hit. I stirred my cranberries in uneasy triumph.

“What a spoiled, easy life you've had,” Mom said, dripping with soft venom. “You’ve never had to do anything you didn’t want to. You’ve never had to take someone else’s point of view into account. Always what you want, never what anyone else needs. A typical only child. I hope your new boyfriend knows how intolerable you are to live with."

So we were going to get bloody, then. “If I’m spoiled, who made me that way?” I demanded. “You raised me. Look at me — I’m your prize. I’m the judgment on your parenting. And you tell me why I’m an only child. I didn’t deny myself brothers and sisters. That’s on you.”                           

“Shut up!” screamed Mom. “Get out. Go have your Thanksgiving with your new special people. But you’d better pick up something to bring, because you’re not taking this mess, as if you're representing my kitchen.” She snatched my pot of boiling berries off the stove and dumped it down the sink.

“With pleasure.” I seized my coat and purse. “And I won’t bother picking up anything, when I can just recount this little incident to everyone to explain why I won’t be eating Thanksgiving dinner at home this year, or any other year.”

I slammed the door to give a stereotypical coda to the stereotypical holiday strife. Stalking down the driveway, I nearly tripped over Dad as he bent, Starbucks cup in hand, to pick up the world’s last home delivered New York Times.

“What’s wrong, honey?” he asked, managing not to spill his coffee as he recovered his balance.

“What’s wrong is your wife. But no, that can’t be, because she’s never wrong.” I swiped at the angry tears freezing my eyelashes. “Doesn’t it ever bother you? Doesn’t it ever grate to be the person always at fault? I’m done with it. Why aren’t you?”

Dad shot an apprehensive glance at the house. “Is Mom upset?”

“I’m upset!” I bawled. “I’m the one who’s right here in front of you.”

He hesitated, torn between the two demanding women in his life, trying to salvage some chance of a Thanksgiving where he could just watch the game in peace.

“I’m sure whatever it is, we can work it out together,” he said, tucking his paper under his arm as his leisure time reward for after he’d brokered peace. “Come on back in with me, and let’s talk to Mom. Let’s not fight on Thanksgiving.”

But I yanked open my car door in disgust. “You could have just hugged me,” I said. “I was right here in front of you.”

After my initial haze of fury cleared, I still had fifty minutes of enforced meditation time in the car. I’m not a big thinker, as you’ve probably noticed. I say stuff and do stuff in the heat of the moment, and the consequences usually take me by surprise. I don’t know why. It seems like there are two kinds of people in the world, the kind who speak their minds, and the kind who think, and I seem to fall in the dumber half of the speaking crew.

So, I’m not used to spending a lot of time alone with my thoughts. But there was nothing else to do on these trips to Titusville. At first I drove without the radio or my playlists because I wanted to concentrate on the directions. Then I wanted to concentrate on the scenery. This time, I found myself reflecting on myself — my whole self, inside and out.

When you see yourself only from the inside, you’re sunk deep in a well. When you see yourself only from the outside, you’re stuck in the shallows, never able to get out into the ocean. But to be able to think about yourself all together, not just in bits and reflections, is some kind of grace that’s usually just beyond my grasp. But somehow, between being emotionally exhausted from fighting with Mom, and feeling flayed from being avoided by Dad, the long drive allowed me to float along with my thoughts without my feelings weighing me down.

What if Dad, instead of retreating and trying to hold some middle ground between me and Mom, had acknowledged that I was upset? What if he’d chosen me in that moment, told me he was sorry that I was feeling hurt? What if he’d wanted to comfort me and make me feel better? I think — and I think I’m being honest — I would have gone back inside with him. I think I would have told Mom that I was sorry for being a jerk, if I’d known that he was in my corner. Maybe Thanksgiving could have been saved for our family, even if I was still going to go to Titusville.

But who am I kidding? If it’s a battle of loyalties between me and Mom, I know that Dad is always going to choose Mom. I guess that’s fair — he’s going to have to live with her a lot longer than he’ll live with me. My interior voice mused about how amazing it would be to have someone who was loyal to me, who always chose me first.

But — the outside voice intruded, and I let it have its say — would I want someone who was unthinkingly loyal to me? I knew how frustrating it was to have Dad seek the path of least resistance by always playing Mom’s side even when she was determined to be right by cutting me down to size. And having seen the tension at Vin’s parents house, I had a sense for how unstable life must be when one parent demanded so much loyalty that the other parent had nothing left to give the child. Who would want to do that to their family? Who would want to be that person? Wouldn’t it be better to have a partner, a friend, who would choose the whole me, even if that meant calling me out when I was wrong?

As Vin had done. He had not been afraid, even on a first meeting, to let me know that I had crossed the line. He respected himself enough not to put up with my tantrum. And yet he didn’t try to provoke me in order to build himself up, as Mom did. Just knowing that gave me the desire, and the ability, to be more aware of myself around him, and to be more aware of him around me. He made me a better person, and I loved him for it.

I loved him.

The pavement before me snapped back into full focus, every bare tree branch arching overhead in crisp outline. The flat autumn colors glowed with strange intensity. Everything was alive. Even the rocks and road and rails shared in some hidden source of animation that gave each thing, each particle of a thing its own particular character. Somehow I was connected to all these odd, outside pieces because they were here with me at this moment of understanding, when everything inside and outside me fused into a radiant ball of happiness.

I loved Vin, and I needed him. With his help, I was able to find the better part of me. But what was in it for him? I was mouthy and pushy and loud, all the things he wasn’t. I didn’t have his restraint or his work ethic. I could be volatile, and maybe that was something that would remind him too much of his mother. What could I do for him that no one else could do? What could I be for him that no one else could be?

Loyal. I could be loyal to him. I could be the one who was one hundred percent for him when he felt like he wasn’t good enough. I could encourage him when he was low, and support him when he was tired. Maybe that would be something new for him, to be the center of someone’s world instead of the steady background character. Maybe he would want that enough to love me back.

And if he didn’t, it wouldn’t be because I didn’t try for it.


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